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Brain function analysis as part of diagnostics - An interview with Olga Kara PhD

07. October 2021

The brain is a very complex organ and the interaction between anatomical and functional networks of the brain is a current topic in psychopathology research and therapeutic discussion.
Olga Kara is a neuropsychologist and neurofeedback therapist with a strong scientific and research background. From early on Olga was fascinated by neurobiological and psychophysiological foundations of cognitive processes as well as their specific patterns in various psychological conditions. Besides Infra Low Frequency (ILF) Neurofeedback, she uses different training methods in combination with neurotechnology to help patients in her practice in Tampere, Finland and clinic in St.Petersburg, Russia. Olga moreover actively participates in the development of the latest approaches for the integration of brain functions analysis in treatment.


Olga, what do we understand under brain functions analysis? 


The Brain - as any other organ - has a specific anatomical construction and we can measure the thickness of the cortical layers, or the size of the ventricles, or identify some unusual swelling. All this information is highly important for diagnostics. At the same time, our brain performs an enormous number of different functions. It allows us to read, speak, run, feel the environment, adapt, learn and so on. This complex repertoire of behavior is performed by functional brain networks, or networks that are activated and working together to allow us to perform.Psychological and psychiatric symptoms often cannot be linked to anatomical deviations, but we can identify problems within functional brain network communication. And this helps us to link the deficiency within a specific functional brain network to the patient’s symptom. 


How do you use brain functions analysis in your practice?


Brain functions analysis helps me in several ways. I conduct brain functions analysis as part of diagnostics to e.g. exclude pathological conditions that should be addressed to another specialist, or to better understand the symptoms of my client. I have found brain functions analysis to be useful, when standard protocols do not seem to help the patients - this is when maybe a severe underlying functional brain dysregulation interferes. So I use brain functions analysis for therapy planning but also for monitoring of therapeutic outcomes.


What further information does brain functions analysis provide for the therapist? 


In ILF neurofeedback our primary source of information are the patient's symptoms and symptom changes. By the patients’ state and the relations within and in between neurofeedback sessions, we get information about hyper- and hypo arousal and can e.g. adapt the training frequency. Me as well as my colleagues get great results by this symptom-based approach. But sometimes - in e.g. patients with inconsistent symptom profiles, severe comorbidities or with practically no ability for introspection and self-report - one would like to consider a second source of information. This is when brain function analysis, EEG and ERP recording can be beneficial. 

Therapists could use this method if they have concerns about client conditions, for brain training protocol construction, for monitoring of progress (especially if customers cannot see the difference between initial condition and post-training changes). In some cases, especially for medical doctors, this method can be used to predict the responsiveness to a specific medication. The information one gets out of brain functions is complex and one needs to analyze the data and have specific knowledge therefore. 


Is brain functions analysis a necessity before starting ILF neurofeedback training? 


It is not a necessity. ILF is a symptom-based approach with clinically validated standard protocols that perform very well without brain functions analysis. 
However, in case your client shows unexpected reaction to ILF or you have some concerns about client progress, you may want to add an additional assessment to support your idea about customer condition, exclude some neurological abnormalities, or simply use this as an evidence-based approach, which can help you to measure the effectiveness of the therapy on the functional brain state.I would recommend brain function analysis for those neurofeedback therapists who are interested in the EEG and want to add a further source of information - EEG and ERP related data - besides symptom changes to their treatment evaluation. 

Olga will also share her knowledge and give insights into brain functions analysis and neurofeedback therapy in an Expert Talk on October, 20th 2021 at 5 pm CET. Register right now for free and learn about how neurodiagnostics, EEG/ERP technology and brain functions analysis can be integrated into a neurofeedback practice.